Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Many high school teams can only dream about what it would be like to win a state championship. Chance are, members of the Rocky River girls soccer team had that same dream numerous times throughout their playing careers.
On Friday, November 8, 2013, that dream became a reality.
The Pirates, after jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead, fought off a determined Granville squad in the second half and defeated the Blue Aces, 3-1, to win the OHSAA Division II Soccer Championship at Columbus Crew Stadium. The win also capped off an undefeated season, with Rocky River finishing at 22-0-1.
"As I told the girls before the game, this is a dream for many, but for us it was a goal," said an elated Rocky River head coach Patrick Hopkins after the game.
"We worked hard every day to be here today and have the opportunity to win a state championship, not only for each other and this team, but for this community. It was an amazing night, and the girls played very well.
"They were determined to make this happen tonight, and they did," he said.
The Pirates took the pitch to open the match as if it were their own. They controlled the ball, keeping it in the Granville third for much of the first 40 minutes. And just 2:31 in, senior Grace Bennett put River on the board.
The Pirate forward stole the ball, dribbled up the middle through a host of Granville defenders and pushed the ball past goalkeeper Tori Long to make it 1-0, River. A little over six minutes later, the Pirate lead grew to 2-0 when senior forward Abby Elinsky went to work.
Elinsky dribbled in on a tough angle from the right side. She blew past a Granville defender and then beat a charging Long for River's second goal with 31:13 still remaining in the half. But despite the early momentum, the Pirates were unable to build on their lead from there.
Granville had an opportunity to get on the board in the 31st minute on a free kick from sophomore Nikki Cox. The ball went deep into the box, and a header attempt was going high for the upper corner. Senior keeper Sara Connelly, however, was up to the task and made a leaping save, deflecting the ball away to keep Granville scoreless.
"We came out and had two nice goals, but we missed a lot of opportunities where we didn't finish," Hopkins said.
"That really could have relieved the pressure, because in the second half they came at us hard," he said. "They came at us hard, we came out a little flat and they had us back on our heels."
As the second 40 minutes began, it was obvious the Blue Aces weren't going down without a fight. They had a golden opportunity for a goal in the 48th minute when Cox sent a cross to senior Riley Rosinski. She had a clear shot but missed, keeping the Pirates lead at two.
But Granville finally got on the board at the 31:13 mark of the half when River was called for a foul in the box. The Blue Aces sent in Cox for the penalty kick, and she responded with a goal to cut the Pirate lead in half.
"At halftime, my biggest fear was which team would get that third goal of the game," HJopkins said. "It was going to be the most important goal of the game. If they got it, we had to make sure we were focused and didn't put our heads down.
"There was a lot of focus after they got that goal. Our girls responded," he said.
River managed to pick up the pace offensively, while the defense did its part in keeping Cox in check. The Pirates had five corner kicks after the PK, but couldn't find the back of the net.
Then in the 71st minute, Bennett ripped a crossing shot from the right side that hit the left post. The ball bounced back into play and found its way back to Bennett, who sent the ball past Long for some much-needed breathing room.
From there, the Pirates seized the final momentum shift and closed things out for the program's first-ever state championship and the school's first team title in decades.
"I have so much faith in the two of them," Hopkins said of his two senior forwards, Bennett and Elinsky. "Big players step up in big games, and that's what they did. They both stepped up and made it happen for us tonight.
"It was amazing how the entire team worked together. They knew what was working for us. Our defense is amazing. I'm so confident in them. I know when the opportunity presents itself, they're coming through. I know they're going to be there, so I don't overreact.
"I knew they would be able to shut down their best player," he said, referring to Cox.
Hopkins also said he felt the game was in hand after Bennett's second goal of the game.
"I knew that we were there. I knew it was ours to have," Hopkins said without hesitation.
"We just had to make sure we finished it, and we did. That third goal was refreshing, it really was. It wasn't easy for me when it was 2-1. But I knew we would make it happen, and we did.
"I'm proud of these girls, and I love this community. It's amazing, because the whole community was here tonight," he added.
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